By winning the first Bassmaster Central Open of 2020 on the Arkansas River, Chris Jones has earned a berth to the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts, Texas, providing he fishes the final three Central Opens of the year, which he fully intends to do.
It will be the second time Jones has qualified for the Classic by winning a Bassmaster Open on the Arkansas River. He also did so in 2013, which vaulted him into the 2014 Classic on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville.
Of the 15 Bassmaster Open tournaments Jones has fished since 2011, six of them have been on the Arkansas River. Besides his two victories, Jones finished in the top 10 twice. His worst showing was 28th place.
“I’ve been fishing the Arkansas River since I was 7 or 8 years old,” Jones said. “Kerr mainly, but the whole river all the way to Russellville, Ark.”
Jones currently lives less than 10 minutes from Kerr Reservoir in Bokoshe, Okla., with his wife, Angel, and two sons, Hunter, 13, and Fisher, 7. Few bass anglers, if any, know the intricacies of Kerr Reservoir and the Arkansas River as well as Jones does.
His father, Larry, competed in local tournaments and introduced Jones to bass fishing as soon as he was able to hold a rod and reel.
“Back then dad was more of a Bomber A and 7-inch ribbontail worm guy,” Jones said. “In the summertime we’d fish main lake points and creek mouths with those baits and some topwater stuff. We didn’t have graphs back then.”
Jones caught on quickly. At age 8 he won the kids division at the first McDonalds Big Bass Classic, which was held at Rayburn Reservoir. He caught the Big Bass, a 4-pounder, by working a Boy Howdy prop bait over submerged grass. He also landed the biggest catfish in his division — a 6-pounder.
The father-and-son duo often fished tournaments together until Jones was around 30 years old. This is when his father’s job as a chemical engineer required him to be away from home much of the time.
One evening when Jones’ father was out of town, he got a phone call from Jason Christie, who is now a professional angler. He met Christie while competing against him in tournaments. Christie needed a tournament partner for his uncle, Charles Christie, aka Chooch.
Chooch and Jones hit it off and fished tournaments together for the next five years. They did well, winning tournaments on the Arkansas River and elsewhere.
“Chooch rigs three rods with spinnerbaits and three rods with jigs,” Jones said. “If he’s not catching them, he’s still throwing three spinnerbaits and three jigs. The number one thing Chooch taught me is to have enough confidence in what I’m doing to stick with it for the full day. If you’re going to win, it’s usually going to be doing what you had enough confidence to start with.”
Jones has also done well in pro/co-angler draw events. He qualified for the 2017 Forest Wood Cup at Lake Murray by finishing fourth at a Costa Championship at Table Rock Lake. The following year he fished the Southwest Division of the Costa series and won a tournament at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, plus the Angler of the Year Title.
“I’ve had the privilege of fishing with a lot of great anglers over the years,” Jones said. “I have a group of close friends I travel with. We call ourselves the Muddy Water Mob. Booyah Baits is making the prototype swim jig I used at the Arkansas River Open for us.”
Most of Jones’ success has come by fishing shallow cover. He is especially skilled at extracting bass from water willow, a prominent aquatic grass at Oklahoma’s Kerr Reservoir. He snatched 19 pounds of bass from water willow on Day 3 of the 2020 Bassmaster Open on the Arkansas River to win the event.
Then again, Jones doesn’t limit himself to the shallows.
“When I have success, I’m usually fishing shallow, “Jones said. “But I like deep cranking and fishing offshore just as much as I do fishing shallow. Nothing is more fun than firing up a school of big ones offshore.”
Jones holds a job as a programmer at the AMET Machine Shop in Fort Smith, Ark. However, should he qualify for the Elite Series via the Bassmaster Central Opens he will sign up for them, on the condition that he can land sufficient sponsor support.
“If I qualify for the Elites, I would love to fish them,” he said.
Jones’ sponsors currently include Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, Barling Boat Sales, Booyah Baits, YUM, Bob’s Machine Shop, Power-Pole, River Valley Truck Outfitters, Costa Sunglasses, Huk and Garmin Electronics.